Miss Cebu takes after beauty queen mom

By Juli Ann M. Sibi |January 14,2016 - 11:42 PM
Miss Cebu 2016 Gabriele “Raine” Baljak is crowned by Sinulog Foundation Chairman Michael Rama during the pageant night as Miss Cebu 2015 Wynonah Buot awards the sash. (CDN PHOTO/LITO TECSON)

Miss Cebu 2016 Gabriele “Raine” Baljak is crowned by Sinulog Foundation Chairman Michael Rama during the pageant night as Miss Cebu 2015 Wynonah Buot awards the sash. (CDN PHOTO/LITO TECSON)

Being called your daughter’s sister is the ultimate compliment to every mother. But to Miss Cebu 2016 Gabriele “Raine” A. Baljak, it’s the other way around.

When people tell her that she looks like her mother Miss Cebu Tourism 1984 Mercedes “Merce” Abellana-Brenner and they seem like sisters, Baljak says she gets “kilig.”

“You know my mother, she has the kind of beauty that shines. Her smile is so brilliant, and so light, and when people say that we look like sisters, it just makes me happy. It means they see the same light in me,” Baljak said.

The 19-year-old beauty queen shared that her mother has been her rock for the entire Miss Cebu 2016 competition.

When she encounters a hurdle in the competition, Baljak said she tries to recall the inspiring strength that her 49-year-old mother showed when she went through her separation with Baljak’s father.

“Not once did she cry in front of me. She kept a brave face, and she would give me that smile that always reminded me to stay positive no matter what,” Baljak said, almost in tears.

At times, her mother became her pageant trainer, telling her to “keep her back straight and her chin up.” Her mother turned into her confidant along the way.

“I would tell her about my trainings. Aside from giving me the practical pageant tips, she would share to me her experiences in her pageant stints, and that is why I love being called my mother’s sister—we get to be back-to-back partners in life,” she added.

When she was crowned as Miss Cebu 2016 on Wednesday, she recalled searching for her mother in the audience first. Seeing her mother overjoyed was the highest moment of the night for her, Baljak said.

“Making her proud is one of the main reasons why I joined Miss Cebu. I love seeing my mother happy, especially with everything she has sacrificed for me and my brother,” Baljak added.

Baljak, a Cebuana of Croatian, Spanish and Chinese descent, was born in Australia, but moved to Tabunok, Maslog, in Danao City as a child.

She grew up in a farm with a lot of goats that she also grew to love.

It is her growing love for the animals that motivated her to be a vegan, aside from trying to find the proper diet to help control her eczema, topical dermatitis and skin asthma.

In her childhood, she remembers trying to raise money to have a small playground built in Maslog, a playground that still exists today.

These were the early beginnings of an advocacy that Baljak still wishes to pursue during her reign as Miss Cebu.

“You know, playgrounds, recreational and educational centers— I want to build venues like this for children to grow and discover their abilities,” she said.

Baljak thinks that Cebu really needs venues like this for children, because she sees them on the street playing, or crossing roads without looking, and it made her question how safe these children really are.

“When I look at children, I see positivity, hope and light, the kind of things that stay when children are brought up properly. I grew up in a good home, and I feel like these children deserve to feel the same way I did as well—safe, blessed, and most of all, loved,” she said.

As her reign begins, Baljak hopes she can create genuine change for Cebuanos and the children. She hopes that even after her reign, the change she has catalyzed will ripple through the years.

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